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Project in Progress: Penticton Channel PIT Array Installation

November 28th, 2017

From November 28-30, 2017, Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) and Penticton Indian Band (PIB) crews will be working together to install four PIT (Passive Integrated Transponders) arrays in the Penticton channel, just north of the former KVR bridge. These arrays are used to record the movement of any PIT tagged fish species that use the channel for habitat or migration. PIT tags are detected and logged as they pass through antennae arrays.  There are many arrays located throughout the Columbia River for tracking the movement and survival of tagged fish.

What are PIT tags: About the size of a grain of rice, these electronic, battery-free tags are similar to the tags installed in dogs and cats by veterinarians to track lost pets. Each tag contains a unique code. When a tag passes by an antenna’s electrical field, a transceiver detects and stores the unique PIT tag number and the time that the tagged fish passed through the field. PIT tags allow us to identify and track individual fish from their release as juveniles to their return as adults. Sockeye smolts are PIT tagged by ONA and community members from both Osoyoos Lake and the kł cp̓əlk̓ stim̓ Hatchery.

Where: The four PIT arrays are being installed within the 100m of channel north of the KVR abutments, south of Skaha Ford.

Safety – please refrain from interfering with any equipment and gear left on site

Why this is important/what are we learning: By monitoring the movement of PIT tagged fish, we can learn key information about species that use the Penticton channel:

  • Run-timing and survival of sockeye smolts to the lower most hydro-dam (Bonneville Dam) in the Columbia River system
  • Migratory timing, delays on the return, and smolt to adult ratios (total survival from smolt to return) from tagged fish that return as adult

Background/History: Construction of permanent flood control dams in the Canadian portion of the Okanagan Basin in the 1950’s has blocked anadromous salmon from a significant portion of their historical range, which includes q̓awst’ik’wt (Skaha Lake) and kłusxənitkw (Okanagan Lake). In 1999, the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) and Colville Confederated Tribes (CCT) initiated a research program, funded by Bonneville Power Administration, to evaluate the feasibility of reintroducing sockeye salmon into their historical range. A 3-year risk assessment of Sockeye reintroduction was carried out by the Canadian Okanagan Basin Technical Working Group (COBTWG), whose participants include the Okanagan Nation Alliance, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), and the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO). The risk assessment, completed in April 2003, concluded that the reintroduction of sockeye into Skaha Lake posed little risk to existing Okanagan Sockeye and resident Skaha Lake Kokanee populations.

The decision was made to introduce hatchery-reared sockeye fry into Skaha Lake as it posed little risk and would allow for in-lake monitoring of food web response. The COBTWG worked to develop and approve a 12-year framework for the Experimental Reintroduction of Sockeye Salmon into Skaha Lake: Proposed Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation Plan (Wright and Smith 2003), which outlines the project rationale, method of reintroduction, and a series of performance measures to address production, growth and survival of sockeye and kokanee. The 12-Year, adaptive management experiment was designed to be reversible if monitoring demonstrates significant negative impacts to either the existing Osoyoos Sockeye or Skaha Lake Kokanee populations.

Typically, hatchery-raised, thermal marked fry produced are released into Penticton Channel upstream of Skaha Lake. In 2014, a record number of 2.5 million eggs were collected from the Okanagan stock, and a significant number of eggs were produced from natural Sockeye spawning in the Penticton Channel upstream of Skaha Lake. Sockeye fry spend one year in Skaha and Osoyoos lakes before migrating to the ocean. The migration typically begins in early spring. Understanding migration patterns and biological traits of sockeye smolts from both lakes is necessary for monitoring and evaluating the Skaha Lake Sockeye Reintroduction Program. An important objective is to determine the migration timing, size, and age structure of wild and hatchery-origin sockeye smolts as they migrate through Osoyoos Lake.

Since 2012, ONA has been implanting Sockeye smolts with uniquely coded PIT tags. PIT tags can be detected and logged as they pass through antennae arrays located throughout the Columbia River. From these detections, we are able to estimate smolt travel time and overall survival as Sockeye migrate to the Pacific Ocean. Ideally, a large number of PIT tagged Sockeye will return as adults and be detected in the arrays as they migrate back to the Okanagan to spawn.

In partnership with Penticton Indian Band.